White House in talks to reel in Big Tech

Democratic lawmakers and Congressional staff tell Reuters they have begun discussions with the White House on ways to pressure social media companies into cracking down on the spread of misinformation. This report produced by Zachary Goelman.

Video Transcript

ZACHARY GOELMAN: Congressional Democrats have begun discussions with the White House on ways to crack down on big tech. Their focus-- holding social media companies accountable for the spread of disinformation, particularly in the wake of the January 6 US Capitol riot.

Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, told Reuters he had spoken to the White House about how to hold social media platforms accountable for amplifying radicalizing messages that trigger violence. It's a contentious topic surrounding a measure called Section 230, part of a 1996 law that shields social media platforms from lawsuits over content posted by users. And big tech desperately wants to keep Section 230 in place.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Without 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything that people say.

ZACHARY GOELMAN: Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey both told congressional panels last year that Section 230 was essential, not just to their businesses, but to free expression.

JACK DORSEY: Section 230 is the most important law protecting internet speech. And removing Section 230 will remove speech from the internet.

ZACHARY GOELMAN: But with the rapid rise of political misinformation, from baseless conspiracy theories to Russian political meddling to falsehoods tweeted from the Oval Office, Democrats are looking for ways to pressure big tech to throttle back on fake news.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Change is on the way. And I intend to bring aggressive and targeted reform to Section 230.

ZACHARY GOELMAN: It's a difficult needle to thread. Democrats want to clamp down on falsehoods without playing censor. There is some Republican support for reforming Section 230, but for somewhat different reasons. Previous social media clampdowns on political misinformation have angered conservatives when their own accounts get slapped with warnings for sharing fake news. President Donald Trump raged when Twitter put fact check labels on some of his tweets, removed others, and, after the Capitol riot, suspended his account. Republicans such as Representative Jim Jordan accused social media companies of unfairly censoring conservative viewpoints.

JIM JORDAN: I'll just cut to the chase. Big tech is out to get conservatives.

ZACHARY GOELMAN: Trump and other Republicans have seized on Section 230 as a way of stripping protections from companies they say aren't playing fair. The conversations between lawmakers and Biden aides represent the first sign that the White House has begun actively getting involved in considering how to take on big tech. The White House declined to comment on the discussions.